SHAOLIN TEMPLE — 7 November 2012 — Two things happened to me today.
1. I surrendered.
I cancelled my reservations.
I scrapped my itinerary.
I have little weak girl arms. They don’t swim too well against a surging current. And everyday since I arrived at Shaolin, I have felt the powerful pull of this place.
To share a way of life.
To accept what is offered.
To have enough.
To do without.
To breathe in.
To breathe out.
To pay attention to the fact that I’m alive. (Barely!)
To do Kung Fu until it hurts. (Well, actually, it hurts all the time!)
To drink tea.
To begin again.
When you’re from the west, it’s hard to surrender. You make plans. You forge ahead. You’re the master of your own destiny. You’re in control.
But I’m in China to learn Chinese things. Destiny is a HUGE Chinese thing. It’s the idea that your life is mapped out for you from your birth, and your job is to find the map. How else was I to learn this unless I gave in to it?
But if I had had any idea that it was my destiny to give up my plans for the unplanned, I would have made other plans!
Actually, when you’re an author, you surrender all the time. You surrender to your characters. You have to let your characters drive the book. Fighting them, or trying to control them, is like fighting a Kung Fu monk – guess who gets their butt kicked?Not him!
Your job is to follow your characters.
And just write what happens.
Books grow organically. Nothing hurts your book more than control. Focusing on plot kills a book. But focusing on characters, and trusting them, will surprise you beyond your expectations.
Research is organic too. Sometimes you find it. And sometimes you don’t. You just have to keep yourself open, and sometimes — get out of your own way because the research is taking you in a different direction than the one you had planned. And when that happens, you bend your book to it. You don’t bend your research to fit your book.
Which brings me to tell you the second thing that happened to me today.
2. I found my power.
During my afternoon training, my Kung Fu master said, “Ti wo.”
“Ti wo,” he said again. Ti means kick, and wo is me. Kick me.
I couldn’t kick him. I’ve never kicked anyone before in my entire life beginning in the third grade when I learned my manners. Before that, I have no memory.
“Ti wo!” he ordered. He was standing within striking distance. If circles had been drawn around us, he would be the bulls eye and I would be inside the first ring. Other monks were training in the same courtyard, in the outer rings beyond us. A million-year-old man, bent over and carrying a large broom made of twigs, was sweeping up the golden ginko leaves, as he does every day, so that no one would slip on them while Kung Fuing. I couldn’t see him, but I could hear the sound of his broom. Shussh. Shussh.
I couldn’t do it.
Just like that, I was deaf to the other noise in the courtyard.
My eyes narrowed.
My hands balled into fists.
He was really asking for it.
I aimed for his head. It looked like a soccer ball.
Then in a slow, silent moment, like the one preceeding a car crash …
White dust flew out of my shoe.
My foot went into his hand and back.
My liver flew out of my chest.
I breathed in.
I breathed out.
“TI WO!!!!” he commanded again.
This time I skipped the long, peaceful moment.
I was on fast-forward!
Faster and harder, I just gave it to him. A dust storm came out of my shoe as it struck his hand.
Then something filled my chest.
I felt powerful.
Sweat cooled the back of my neck.
I’ve never felt this way before. Awake. Wide awake. It was strange and new. But it was more than a feeling. Something in me had changed.
I saw it in my master’s face.
“You found your power,” he said, placing his words carefully into a place deep inside of me, like a baker putting loaves of bread into an oven.
I may have little weak girl arms, but I have KILLER LEGS!
I wanted to kick him again!!!
I felt like I could kick forever!
But he said it was enough.
Maybe his hand was hurting. But he didn’t rub it, not once, it’s one of the rules of Kung Fu, I think. It’s like baseball — when you get HBP (Hit By Pitch) — no matter how much it hurts, you can’t rub the spot.
And the changed look in his face? Was it respect? Or … fear? I don’t know. It was a look unfamiliar to me … I’d never seen it before, anywhere — could it have been the look of one warrior eyeing another?
I don’t know. I also don’t know what I looked like at that moment, but this I know for sure — my inner warrior had come out of nowhere.